An Armagh man who was accused of threatening a taxi-driver with a pointed article and making off without paying, alongside a range of motoring offences, has been sentenced to six months in custody.
Alan James Johnston, of Portadown Road, appeared before Armagh Magistrates’ Court, sitting at Newry Courthouse, via video-link from Maghaberry.
The 64-year-old was charged with common assault, possessing an offensive weapon in a public place, obtaining services dishonestly, two counts of using a motor vehicle without insurance, being an unaccompanied L driver, having no L plates displayed and assault on police.
Prosecution outlined that on July 27, 2021, police received a report of a one-vehicle road traffic collision within the vicinity of the Dobbin Road.
On arrival, police observed a vehicle with its nose in the grass verge at the left hand side of the road, with minor damage to the front bumper.
Police spoke with an independent witness at the scene, who claimed they had seen the vehicle park at the side of the road, prior to the collision, with a female sitting behind the wheel. This female then allegedly moved to the passenger seat and a male drove the vehicle away.
The witness was “concerned with the manner of driving of this car” and followed it and watched as it veered off the road and settled in the grass verge before police arrival.
At the roadside, police spoke with the defendant who identified himself as the driver.
He explained he had been driving along Dobbin Road in the direction of Armagh with a female he had met that night in a bar in Portadown. This female was also present and identified herself.
The defendant stated that he was driving but could not account for why the car had crashed. He was placed in the back of a police vehicle to ensure his safety and a preliminary breath test was conducted, which returned a result of zero.
The female was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital and completed a preliminary breath test which resulted in a fail.
The defendant was unable to produce a driver’s licence and it was noted that no L plates were displayed.
The defendant “kicked out” at a constable in the back of the police vehicle, through the open left rear door, and his foot “connected with the constable’s face, causing the constable’s nose to bleed”.
He was arrested and taken to custody for interview where it was revealed that he only possessed a provisional licence.
The court then heard that on September 14, 2021, police were on mobile patrol in Armagh when they observed what appeared to be an abandoned BMW on the hard shoulder of the Portadown Road.
After a check of police systems, it was established that the vehicle was registered to the defendant. Police established that the defendant was required to display L plates. However, there were none on the vehicle and the results showed there was no insurance.
A short time later, police went to the home address of the defendant to ascertain the driver details. The defendant told police that he was driving early in the morning and that he had run out of diesel.
On October 17, he was cautioned and at interview denied that he was driving on his own, saying that he had someone else in the car. He stated that he wasn’t aware that he was required to display L plates and that he did have insurance, but could not provide police with any documentation.
The final case before the court was that on November 29, 2021, police were tasked to Market Street in Armagh due to a report from a taxi driver that he had been threatened with a “pointed article” by the defendant, who had made off in the direction of Lower English Street without paying the £19 taxi fare.
Upon police arrival at Market Street, a statement of evidence was recorded from the taxi driver. Police attended the bus station where the defendant was located and found to be in possession of the pointed article. He was then arrested on suspicion of common assault, making off without payment and possession of the article. He was cautioned and made no reply.
Johnston’s defence solicitor, Richard Monteith, explained that the Judge had given his client an overall sentence of four months at Laganside Court the previous week.
He explained that in regards to the taxi incident, the assault was just putting him “in fear” and that “the item itself was actually a tool as opposed to a particular weapon of offence”.
He added that in regards to the no insurance case: “He had a plethora of old cars and in a mixture of insurance and not insurance, but he accepts he wasn’t insured on that day for that old BMW.”
Monteith also made brief mention to the contest surrounding the incident on the Dobbin Road, saying that there were complications with the third party, who was “very, very intoxicated.”
He added: “She had clearly grabbed the steering wheel and caused the accident at the time and I think that’s accepted.”
Referring to the assault on the police officer, Mr Monteith said that it “wasn’t the worst but was unpleasant”, and that his client, “seems to have gone off the rails at an age where he should be pipe and slippers”.
District Judge Anne Marshall, presiding, said of the defendant: “After 2012, he seemed to stay out of trouble for nearly 10 years and then whatever has happened from April-May time of last year he’s become a bit of a crime spree.”
Dealing with the charges in chronological order, for driving without supervision he was fined £50, for having no L plates he was fined a further £50, for no insurance and the assault on police he was sentenced to one month in custody for each.
He was further disqualified from driving for one year.
For the no insurance charge on September 21, he received one month in custody and was disqualified from driving for a year.
For the incident with the taxi-driver, District Judge Marshall said: “That one is serious because it was an assault, albeit it might be technical but it was an assault on a taxi driver who performs a valuable public service.”
For these offences, Johnston was sentenced to four months in custody, to run consecutively to the other sentences of imprisonment, leaving a total of six months in custody.